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A few months ago, when I was tidying up my study, I flipped open the score of Chopin’s Mazurkas, and I discovered that the pages for one of the Mazurkas was filled with pencil markings, a clear indication that I had learned that piece at one point, yet I couldn’t remember having learned it at all. I took it to the piano, and as I played it for the first time in decades, my fingers seemed to run on the keyboard on their own to the right directions and hit the right keys, an indisputable proof that I had learned the piece at some point. It was the last note of the piece that, as I played it and let it linger in the air, reminded me of the lost memory associated with this piece of music.
That was when you and I were still student of that school. We were sitting on that long piano stool in the practice room that we frequented, and I was playing that Mazurka to you. As I finished the last note, my hands left the keyboard, but my right foot remained on the pedal, which made that last note stay in the air and drift away slowly into nothingness. In that space between music and silence, your head fell to my shoulder, and then you asked:
“What will become of us after we leave this school?”
I didn’t say anything, for I didn’t even understand your question. Of course we will remain together, I thought. There are no laws which say we can’t remain together. So I went on to play the next Mazurka without answering you, though that question haunted us, because there was no way it wouldn’t.
The memory of that Mazurka reawakened my remembrance of our another meeting of the similar kind in the same practice room. It was a few months later, I believe, and I was playing a sonata by Beethoven which was titled “Les Adieux.” It was written during the Napoleonic Wars: the French army was set to attack Vienna, so Archduke Rudolph, Beethoven’s patron and friend, decided to leave Vienna while Beethoven stayed. The sonata was a musical depiction of the parting of the two friends in a time of turbulence, the loneliness of being deprived of a good company, and the subsequent joyous reunion of the two. The first movement began with a slow introduction with a descending three-note motif, to which Beethoven wrote “Le-be-wohl” on those three notes, as if setting the word to the melody. The entire first movement was built on this little “Le-be-wohl” motif, which was repeated again and again in one form or another throughout the movement, as if the person leaving were unwilling to leave and the one staying were unwilling to let the friend leave, so that they were saying “farewell” to each other without being able to let go of each other until the journey could not be delayed for any longer.
After the first movement, I took a brief pause, intending to continue into the next movement, but like last time, your head fell to my shoulder, and you whispered.
“So, is this goodbye?”
Like last time, I didn’t quite understand what you were asking, so I asked you what you meant, to which you said nothing but pointed to the score on the piano, which remained on the first page of the first movement despite my having played the entire movement, for I had by then memorised the whole sonata. The first line of the first page of the sonata was the word “Le-be-wohl” written over the three opening notes. Now you whispered “Lebewohl” into my ears. It was only at that point that the haunting question about us came to the fore of my consciousness, though you might have already been thinking hard and long about it when I was playing the Mazurka to you: that question of us being separated by distance. Although it was true that, despite being in the same school, we were separated during brief holidays when you returned to your house in the north of England and went on tours everywhere while I stayed at home in London, we knew we would meet again, and we wrote to each other while we were away. The new problem which confronted us would be a new one: if we were to go to different corners of the country, we would be separated by a distance so long and for a time period so lengthy that it would deprive us of each other and make our love for each other fade.
Tears dropped from your eyes, but you wiped them off your face, as if hoping that I hadn’t seen them; but I had. I put my arm around you and kissed you, but I said nothing, and we stayed in that position for a long time, during which millions of thought had gone through our minds.